Education leaders ask for civility at local school board meetings

Parents In Johnston County protest mask mandate earlier this month. (Photo: Greg Childress)

State education leaders on Tuesday issued a statement urging parents and others protesting mask mandates to ­­­end the “hostility” and “threats” against local school boards.

The last month has been a particularly troublesome one for school boards as most districts moved to mask mandates in the wake of increasing COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations due to the more transmissible Delta variant of the virus.

State Board of Education (SBE) Chairman Eric Davis, SBE Vice Chairman Alan Duncan and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt released this statement out of “concern” for the safety of local school board members:

As education leaders in our state, we are united by our fierce passion for serving students and in our commitment to providing all students and those serving our students with a safe environment. As we continue to see instances of violence unfold during some local school board meetings, we are yet again unified. The increased hostility and threats of force that we have seen across the state are not reflective of what we expect and ask of our own students: treating others with kindness and respect.  

As educators, as parents and as concerned citizens, we respect the rights of our fellow citizens to share their concerns and voice their opinions. However, this must be done without the use of intimidation or intentionally inspiring fear. Every one of us has a responsibility to instill in our children their first amendment rights and responsibilities, but we have an even greater responsibility to model good behavior while doing so. 

Our schools and district buildings should remain safe havens, and these acts of aggression cannot be tolerated. Our school board members and local leaders should not be threatened. Especially in times of disagreement, we should act with civility and respect for our teachers, local boards, superintendents, and school staff who are doing their best throughout this unprecedented time to lead, guide and educate our students. We invite you to join us in this endeavor.

The North Carolina Schools Board Association has asked Gov. Roy Cooper and state lawmakers to help ease tensions at school board meetings, which have become increasingly volatile as protesters rally to demand boards remove mask mandates.

In some counties, board chairmen have adjourned meetings early due to rowdy crowds. Some board members and school staff have received threats.

Guilford County Schools has taken mean-spirited attacks against school board members and Superintendent Sharon Contreras seriously. Additional security officers are posted at board meetings and Contreras received extra security after mask-mandate opponents sent threatening messages to the board and superintendent.

At a press conference last week, Gov. Cooper said he is troubled by the bad behavior at some board meetings.

“Threats, bullying, intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools particularly by adults,” Cooper said.

The Governor continued: “Being civil and respectful of others is more important than ever. Let’s behave the way we want our kids to act.”

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